2019/03 – My visit to England

“Seeking connections to my father, a Pathfinder” by Linda Larson Lindeke

Delwood Harry Larson

The following is an extract from a document entitled “Seeking connections to my father, a Pathfinder” by Linda Larson Lindeke.

Linda, who lives in Minnesota, USA, travelled to England in March 2019 to learn more about her father, Delwood Harry Larson, who served with No 35 Squadron in 1945

After learning so much new information about my father I focused on my March 2019 travels to England.

On my first day I visited the Bomber Command Memorial in Green Park near Buckingham Palace. Sadly, it was barricaded because of recent vandalism. Despite the 20 foot chain link fence I was moved to see the life-sized statues of seven air crew in their flight suits.

While I stood there deep in thought, I noticed the woman standing beside me and listened to her explain to her small son that their uncle was a hero like those men. When I told her my father was a bomber pilot from Canada the three of us had a special conversation that I will long remember.

Visits to the Churchill War Rooms and the Imperial War Museum helped me to understand more about war events.

For example, I learned about extreme measures the Bomber Command took to improve the safety of landing aircraft that were forced to return to base in thick fog and during night bombing blackouts. There were hundreds of airfields close together in eastern England and weather was frequently foul. Once they were over the coast of England planes used radio contact to alert the waiting ground crews to turn on the runway beacons as they neared their home base. But there were frequent mishaps, many causing fires and loss of life and aircraft. One possible solution was called the Fog Investigation and Dispersal Operation (FIDO) invented by the Anglo-Iranian Oil Company (renamed BP Oil in 1954). It is hard to believe that this was ever even built, much less that it worked.

FIDO was developed at Graveley Air Base, one of the places my father was stationed. The system consisted of pipes installed all along the runways, each pipe pierced in multiple places with burner holes. When planes approached during dense fog or blackout conditions the crew pumped petroleum vapor under pressure through these pipes and then lit the fuel. Jets of flame then shot high into the air, apparently visible up to 60 miles away. The pilots had to land their planes between these walls of flames with extreme precision to avoid catastrophe.

I travelled a hundred miles north of London to the city of Boston where I stepped back in time at the restored bomber base, the Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre. Like so many others this base is located on flat lands that accommodated the triangle of runways needed for bomber landings and take-offs. Elaine Wilcox, volunteer, and Andrew Panton, grandson of the Centre’s founder, patiently showed me around and identified many details in pictures that I brought of my father’s service years. Among the restored sights are the air crew sleeping quarters, the briefing room and the control tower.

I enjoyed delicious cottage pie and homemade cakes in the base mess hall made onsite from wartime recipes.  I hope my father had meals like that because he would have been reminded of the wonderful cooks and bakers in his home community of Metiskow Alberta.

An especially emotional experience was when I climbed deep into the enormous Lancaster bomber fuselage. My father was six feet four inches tall. How could he have folded himself into that small space? The air crew must have been so cramped and cold as they faced incredible danger on six to eight-hour night missions over hostile territory.

The following day I travelled 30 miles north to the city of Lincoln to visit the International Bomber Command Centre (IBCC).

The IBCC website states that it is:

“A world-class facility to serve as a point for recognition, remembrance and reconciliation for Bomber Command. Providing the most comprehensive record of the Command in the world, the IBCC ensures that generations to come can learn of their vital role in protecting the freedom we enjoy today.”

This facility is entirely different from the quaint and homey Lincolnshire Aviation Heritage Centre and I am very glad I visited both places. The IBCC is a research centre that uses the latest archiving and digital display technology. It aims to archive and tell the stories of over a million men and women from 62 countries who served or supported the RAF Bomber Command. It is magnificently located on the crest of a hill overlooking the city of Lincoln and Lincoln Cathedral, the fourth largest cathedral in England. The grounds contain a recently dedicated memorial obelisk that is over 100 feet high (exactly the wingspan of the Lancaster Bomber); walls around display names of the more than 55,000 Bomber Command casualties.

The IBCC does not back away from also including controversies surrounding the RAF Bomber Command in displays that discuss the ethics of area bombing and the German civilian loss of life and property. The IBCC messages seem to conclude that Britain was locked into terrible choices and came close to losing the war on more than one occasion. The air war over Germany conducted by the Bomber Command played a crucial role in the ultimate victory.